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How to Inspire Your Team


"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

– Antoine de Saint Exupery


One of the key characteristics resilient people share is that they have clear meaning and purpose. The Sufi poet Kabir once wrote, "It is the intensity of the longing that does the work." When a person is connected with meaning and purpose then they are willing to overcome certain setbacks and challenges to fulfill that purpose. It is also helpful when that purpose is something bigger than any one individual.

If we look at de Saint Exupery's quote (which is probably an interpretation from his writing in the Citadel) he is talking about leadership. He is telling his readers that if you want a group of people to come together, work hard, and achieve a desired outcome, you don't just give them orders and tasks. Doing this may still get your boat built, but it will be just that, "your boat." Will those same people come together to weather the first storm at sea, or make difficult repairs, or stay up long hours to sail and direct the ship where you want it to go? The answer is no. The crew will have achieved a task but they will not be resilient to the future challenges they will face. In times of difficulty and struggle, the leader will constantly be managing, or even worse, micromanaging to avoid any possible mutiny.

Great leaders don't order people to complete tasks. They don't have to! Great leaders inspire people by connecting them to a larger meaning and purpose. This is what de Saint Exupery means when he says, "teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." If in this example, a leader can inspire his crew to want to discover a new world or chart the expansive oceans for future generations of voyagers then they won't have to be ordered to build a boat. It will be built because the team is inspired by the vision and a boat is a necessary tool to fulfill it. Not only that, but it will be built better, stronger, and with more cooperation.

A resilient leader must inspire first. If they can do this then they will manage last. When there is a shared vision, a clear meaning and purpose, and the proper systems in place, individuals are empowered to self manage, take deeper satisfaction in contributing to the group, and overcome challenges.

Inspiration is contagious. Your first task is to connect with the sources of inspiration in your own life. How do you show up to your family, friends, and organization? Are you aligned to a deeper meaning and purpose? If so, allow your inspiration to drive your actions. People will not only see what you do, but they will also feel what you do. If not, take time for reflection. You may be inspired in ways that you are just out of touch with. Reconnecting to that inspiration can make all the difference in your personal and professional success.

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